This was our first trip to Cuba, but we have vacationed primarily at other all inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic (Punta Cana, Puerta Plata and La Romana) and the Mayan Riviera. Our comments about this resort are in comparing it to all the others we’ve vacationed at over the last 10 years. We are a married couple, both 49, looking for hot weather, beautiful beaches and nice accomodations.
We were there from Nov 14-21st and the resort was not at full capacity but there were more and more people coming in as the week progressed. Apparently, the resort opened mid Sept, so we experienced some minor growing pains but nothing major.
All in all, we had a very nice vacation and would definitely recommend this resort. The resort itself in our view is a 5 star, however the food we would rate as 3 or 3.5 star when comparing to the Dominican. The rooms a spacious, clean and beautifully appointed and the bathrooms are large with granite and ceramic tile everywhere. There is a TV, but not many channels to choose from and the reception is not very good compared to what we’re used to at home. This was not an issue for us as we were not there to stay in and watch TV.
Restaurants and Bars:: One of the reasons we have not travelled to Cuba was because of the many comments about the food at the resorts. The main buffet at the Laguna Azul has many stations with plenty of food, but the problem is there is no real variety from day to day. Its pretty much the same food each night with some minor differences. This applies for breakfast and lunch. We were allowed 3 a la cartes, but managed to get a 4th a la carte. The Japanese rest was not open at the time we were there. Our first night was at Romantico. Beautiful restaurant – I had my best meal here. I had the beef tenderloin which was very tasty and prepared to perfection – med rare, just like I ordered it. Our next night was at the Italian restaurant. The mushroom risotto was excellent, but thats about it. The 3rd night was at the Grill Room where we ordered the beef tenderloin and as you can imagine I was really looking forward to it. This time we got a thin slice of meat that was med well to well done.! The bonus or extra evening we went to the Cuban restaurant and we both had the grilled lobster. My wife’s was ok, but mine was not good at all.They were quite small, but my lobster had a mushiness to it which made it unedible. All in all the food experience does not compare to those we’ve had in the DR.
We did not starve and complain, but made do with the other food that was offered. If you are expecting a gourmet experience here you won’t get it, but you won’t starve either. We were hoping for a better experience in order be lured back to Cuba in the future, but I think we will continue to go to Punta Cana as our preferred destination when it comes to food.
We did not spend much time at the pool, but there are plenty of loungers and no need to get up early to reserve. There were several pools in the complex and a nice large hot tub on a small "mountain" by the main pool. The beaches are beautiful and you can walk for miles in either direction. The water was spectatular – sandy bottom and the water was warm and crystal clear. It’s the best ocean water we’ve ever swam in. We would say that the vegetation is much better in Punta Cana with all the palm trees right up to the waters edge. In Varadero, there was none of this – it was primarily sandy with lots of palapas to use as shade. It just didn’t seem as lush and tropical as the beaches in Punta Cana.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel::
There were plenty of activities to get involved with at the pool and beach during the day with the animation group. Everything from yoga, water exercise, salsa lessons, etc. The evening entertainment at the Teatro (theatre) was excellent. Very professional and the best we’ve seen compared to the other resorts. The house band was outstanding and we enjoyed it each evening. It goes from 9:30 pm to about 11 pm. We would then leave and go next door to the Club/disco which was hopping every night and we had a blast!
Other Comments:: We have been to Punta Cana many times and have stayed at Excellence (our favourite), Grand Palladium, Occidental Grand Flamenco, Grand Bahia Principe, RIU’s, etc and we feel these resorts would rank higher in our estimation that the Laguna Azul. If the food was better, we would rank it at least equal to the ones I’ve mentioned. Let me say that the Cuban people are warm and friendly and always smiling and looking to please for the most part. They really apppreciate our attempts to speak Spanish and learn a few words. We felt very safe and comfortable from the airport right to the resort and back. Here are a few things we noticed or things to keep in mind if travelling to Cuba: – there is NO mobile email service in Cuba, so if you have a Blackberry, you will not be able to send or receive emails. You can only make calls,receive call and make & receive text messages. – the exchage rate is the same everywhere at all the resorts and banks – it is set by the gov’t – the wine is not that good, so don’t hesitate to bring your own wine. We did and the waiters had no issues with us bringing it to the restaurants and having it served to us. – do not bring US cash – you will get hosed on the exchange. Bring Canadian cash and exchange it for CUC at the eairport or resort, but only exchange enough for your needs, because you will lose on the exchange back to Canadian when you are ready to leave. This of course applies to Canadian travellors. – do not use your Visa or other credit card as you will get charged a punitive service charge, so bring cash or travellers cheques – most of the vacationers were Canadian, French and French Canadian, English and many Russians – many of the women complained about mosquito bites in the evening when wearing dresses or skirts. I wore slacks in the evening (you had to at the a la cartes) so I didn’t really experience this much. – we didn’t find much activity in the main lobby in the evenings – nothing much offered in the way of live music – we had a massage one day and it was terrific – they are as good as the massage therapists in Canada and about the same in price (about $60 for 1 hr) – the exercie room is new with a number of treadmills and bikes, but the area is rather small. There is one universal weight machine and some free weights so it can get busy in there quickly.
– there is a nice cigar shop in the main lobby but is only open from 5 pm until about midnight. I didn’t find the selection to be that good and the prices were not what I had expected. Cuban cigars a generally strong, so I didn’t buy any to take back home, although I had some Romeo & Juliet’s and Partagas. I prefer the mild to med cigars from the Dominican.
We would definitely recommend this resort as it is new and clean with beautiful surroundings, however we were disappointed with the food when compared to food experiences at other all inclusive 4.5 and 5 star resorts in the DR and Mayan Riviera. This is a family friendly resort with many vacationers bringing their small children. Our children are grown, so we prefer to stay at adult resorts like Excellence Punta Cana.